Secret of “the realm of bears”

The two leading characters of the documentary Black Bear Forest, HWANG Mei-hsiu and LIN Yuan-Yuan, and its film director, LEE Hsiang-hsiu, are bonded together through the Mount Yushan and her pristine forest. In 2010, LEE decided to film the Taiwanese black bear, Formosan Black Bear and met professor HWANG. The film not only unfolds the secret of the Formosan Black Bear, a rare and endemic species in Taiwan but also reveals the life-long friendship between HWANG and LIN which have been developed through dozens of years in searching for the Formosan Black Bear.

In 1998, HWANG returned to Taiwan from America to finish her doctoral thesis about the Formosan Black Bear in Taiwan. Her Professor made her choose this topic because this species is endangered and they are barely known to academia. In fact, the so-called “kingdom of the black bear” in Dafen was even unknown to the Taiwan public back then. Dafen is the most remote mountain area in the Yushan National Park. Its rich nature and the difficult-to-access terrain support the high species diversity. Every winter, a Formosan black bear came to Dafen for its abundant fruits and the plentiful delicious nuts of the ring-cupped oak.

The knowledge and research methods from America won’t help HWANG a lot in the deep
mountain and forest in Taiwan. So she found LIN, an indigenous former hunter and mountain ranger, to help her find the bears, document and mark them. Over the three years of field research, LIN was more than a guide or fellow to HWANG. They shared a friendship of life and death and became family.

Director LEE managed to reconstruct the story and portray the two characters along with the journey into the wild nature. With a smart selection of the video clips, pictures, diaries from HWANG’s earlier expeditions and the brilliant combination of interview and animation, the deep connection between the HWANG, LIN, the bear was gradually expanded in the film. The initial focus of the film is indeed the bear and their living environment. But soon will find ourselves sharing our fears and happiness with the two. HWANG might have thought that her research would result in a family-like friendship. HWANG and LIN have different education and ethnic background. They used to have different opinions towards the bear, since LIN, as a Bunun hunter, used to hunt the bears. But without LIN, without the traditional knowledge and wisdom of the indigenous people, HWANG’s research could not have made any great progress. Their contrast and deep friendship can be seen throughout the film, when they talked about their different opinions in searching for the bears, about their quarrel and the essential support between them throughout the lonesome and sometimes dangerous journey. This adds another layer to the film — the traditional beliefs and customs of the indigenous people, rooted in this magical landscape. But aren’t they endangered?

The documentary shows the stunning beauty of the Taiwan Central Range. Using Aerial photograph, long takes, telephoto shots, the living environment of the black bears in Taiwan and the environment of HWANG’s field research are well presented. Together with HWANG’s narration, the extreme hardships and the alarmingly danger of her expeditions have become very plausible for us. And so is the filmmaking of course. That’s why HWANG spent 6 years with her team, entering Dafen for almost 30 times to finish her film. Another reason for the long-lasting filmmaking is the post-production since she needed to reconstruct the storyline and build the narrative structure based on all the materials she got and shot, most of which are fragmented.

HWANG has rarely experience in mountain-climbing or nature documentary. Her first thought was that the grand nature in the center of Taiwan is not known to people, not even to her. And if she wouldn’t do now, it would become too late for her age. It took her lots of effort to prepare herself physically for the mountains and also to study nature documentary, animal shooting, and animals themselves. Her sense of mission and extraordinary determination make the film possible so that we can have the chance to admire the inaccessible mountains and the animals, to know these beautiful people and their touching stories.


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